Sunday, March 09, 2008
All I'm asking for is a tune
Something itchy to tap my toes to
Something that in late afternoon
Makes high strung boys collapse... (Make Me A Song - William Finn)
I have been familiar with the music of William Finn for a little over five years now... This is not long for a groupie, but after seeing a performance of Falsettos with the opening number "Four Jews In A Room Bitching" I knew his music was going to be my cup of tea. While the subject matter (brain tumours, Bar Mitzvahs etc) I am not always able to relate to, the themes, issues and the humour his work explores I have loved. And since my Falsettos moment, I have made a point of finding the rest of his music. This has led to me laughing out loud on the tube (always a good way to get labelled a freak) listening to Infinite Joy and relishing the chance of being a disciplined non-hammy speller on Broadway.
But the fact that his music hasn't really had a decent showing in London has always bothered me. Perhaps it is the sentiment I have heard around here that his music is regarded disparagingly as "a bit off Broadway". Then again, for a city that doesn't have such an institution to develop new work and would rather keep running revivals of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat I suppose that has to be put in perspective.
Anyway, all this can be forgiven now that Make Me A Song - a musical revue of Finn's music featuring some of West End's finest - Louise Dearman, Frances Ruffelle, Gareth Snook, Simon Thomas, Sally Ann Triplett and Ian H Watkins - is playing at the New Players Theatre. With so many fabulous songs sung by such a fabulous cast it was a real treat...
When the show is this good you could get a bit prissy about the production and hope that as the run goes on that the lighting hits the actors better, Sally Ann Triplett doesn't have to keep moving the furniture about during the number "All Fall Down", they all remember the lyrics, and Ian H gets a more flattering wardrobe. But none of it really mattered. Actually on the wardrobe point Finn was there in the audience looking very comfy in his t-shirt, trousers and crocs so maybe Ian's baggy trousers and lumpy jumper was deliberate. It was nice to see with Finn his "this is how it is" attitude in his music extends to his attire, particularly since the rest of the audience were dressed to the nines... The show runs until 6 April... Hopefully a cast album will be in the works too...
Tuesday, March 04, 2008
Just before I saw There Will Be Blood last Thursday, I had a conversation with a friend about him doing the right thing and dumping some guy he had been dating by telling him after dinner. He didn't take it too well, and my friend was a bit upset that he had "done the right thing" and it still didn't work out too well. I figured whether you say it with dinner or say it with a brick through the window it is still the same news. I suggested it would have been better just to cut him off and ignore him. Well that suggestion didn't go down to well. But it was a relief after watching this film to see that there were far bigger ass holes out there... Such as the character played by Daniel Day Lewis. It is nice to see such a cynical, jaded set of characters on one screen. None of the characters are doing anything unless there is something in it for them.
While that may not seem like the best way to spend three hours, and it does have long slow stretches and loads of worthy acting, watching this film was enough to realise that this movie was light years ahead of the usual crap at the cinema. And how can you resist a film with lines like (to paraphrase), "Are you the afterbirth that slid out with the rest of your mother's filth?" Now that's one to try and slip into casual conversation...
Saturday, March 01, 2008
Wednesday, February 27, 2008
After dealing with a head cold for the last few days, the offer to see the first night preview of Major Barbara at the National Theatre with the West End Whingers seemed like a sensible enough diversion. Well... Any excuse for a trip to the theatre for those bloggers of stage... I was wondering whether the usual drinking and carrying on at interval would be so appropriate with the play featuring the Salvation Army, but nobody else shared this view.
I also had a theory that the audience would be full of Salvation Army members. This turned out to be incorrect too. Instead the audience was full of was old people (and bloggers perhaps) and it felt like it was pension day. Old people audiences are great as they laugh at all the right spots and generally don't talk. But they do smell of moth balls and forget to turn their mobiles off. I noticed one old girl in the row in front of me also preferred to read Bernard Shaw's text from a scrappy paperback rather than see it. Some of these senior citizens also take up more room than they realise. I found myself on rather creepily familiar terms with the woman next to me as she rubbed her legs up against mine. Maybe she had a blood clot I don't know but darn those cramped front row stall seats...
As for the play, well it turned out that this production was one of those that the National does rather well. A big set, big lights and an even bigger cast. Shaw's work written in 1915 about ideals, poverty, security and profits seem as relevant today as ever. Laughing at jokes about businessmen buying their way to get honours seemed all a bit too familiar. The jibes (including against Australians - obviously we were just as irritating to Londoners as far back as then), fly about fast enough that it probably helps to have the script with you so you can remember it all. Amongst all the witty banter there were a few startling moments (such as a fight scene at the Salvation Army) that did seem to jolt one back to reality. I could have done without the final audio of bombs falling and exploding. The last scene is set in the arms factory and the stage was surrounded by an impressive display of bombs... Waiting... We know they are going to explode in Europe, Japan, Vietnam, Iraq and so forth...
But anyway, spelling things out in big bold letters aside, it looks set to be a great production. It is a great cast too featuring Simon Russell Beale as Andrew Undershaft, Hayley Atwell as Barbara and Clare Higgins as Lady Britomart Undershaft. Sitting so close to the front and with the actors perched up so high on an elevated stage you could really feel them at work... And you could hear the metal supports of the stage creak and groan too... But maybe that was someone's hip... That old woman next to me was moving about a bit. You can never tell... Worth a look anyway...
Monday, February 25, 2008
Sunday, February 24, 2008
Saturday, February 23, 2008
Wednesday, February 20, 2008
Friday, February 15, 2008
There are some people I would pay to see even if they sat on stage and read a phone book. Just out of sheer curiosity to see what they would do with it. Ute Lemper is one of those people to me. And when you become a fan, you buy their CDs and you put up with their eccentricities like that last never ending track on the album of Punishing Kiss or all that annoying screeching on the Grapefruit Moon track on Blood and Feathers. On the other hand someone recently told me that they no longer see her shows as "her head is so far up her own arse that it all feels like a bit of an ego trip".
I saw the Ute with Alice at the Shaw Theatre Thursday night and he definitely agreed with that last sentiment. And given the number of people getting up and leaving during the course of the show maybe this wasn't an isolated view. Well the show started late and the seats at the Shaw toward the rear of the theatre resemble QANTAS economy so maybe they just had to get up and have a stretch.
Anyway the late start was attributed to some ticket printing error which issued some tickets with a start time of 8pm rather than 7.30. So to please nobody the theatre started fifteen minutes late and so people kept filing in until after 8pm. This is good enough reason why tickets should never be mailed to people. If you pick them up at the box office you wouldn't have to worry about misprinted start times. But I digress. When it did get going Ute started with a great version of Piaf's Milord which sounded like the version on Blood and Feathers so that was helpful in framing what to expect - German jazz basically. Alice who was not familiar with this Album was none the wiser...
It didn't help that the in-between monologues were written for an American audience as well. Perhaps all that time living in New York has made her not realise that with his limited achievements and general incompetence the world has managed to get around the fact George Bush is still in the White House. In between obscure references to American politics, there were references to yin and yang and the moon and the ocean and the navel and the moon and the yin and the ocean and the moon and so on etcetera. It all became an incoherent blur that you just kept hoping the next song would start.
And some of the songs were great. Highlights included her version of Surabaya Johnny and her performance of a few Jaques Brel songs. When she sings it is an amazing experience. When we get the jazz asides it can be a mixed bag. Then again perhaps given the technical problems with sound, lighting and acknowledged jet lag - the result of flying in late from Greece due to a 24 hour strike - perhaps we weren't seeing the best possible performance.
Leaving the theatre Alice suggested that since he wasn't that fond of Germans or jazz, it was never going to be a memorable night for him. I on the other hand had a great time. It isn't that often you get to see a scary German woman get up and sing and screech and make trouble. And if you are a fan of Ute Lemper that's exactly what you came to see... And you got it. Well maybe a bit more singing next time... Her new album is out from later this month. I'll be getting it too dammit.
Tuesday, February 12, 2008
Monday, February 11, 2008
All the glitz, glamour and excitement of the BAFTAs at Covent Garden. A naff awards ceremony that for some unexplained reason gets a lot of attention (probably since the Oscar telecast is on Sky). Still, there were the fashions to behold like this £5 little number from Primark...
Sunday, February 10, 2008
Saturday night (with thanks to the Whingers again for their very sensible tactic of group booking shows) I saw Chita Rivera at the Shaw Theatre. During the course of the week I had to explain who Chita was to a number of people. After telling them to "wash their mouth" once they asked "Who the hell is Chita?", I explained she originated many of the great Broadway roles including Anita in West Side Story and Velma in Chicago. The fact that West Side Story is celebrating it's fiftieth anniversary also firmly puts her in the category of concerts by old Broadway broads like Barbara Cook, Elaine Stritch or Bea Arthur.
There is something fascinating about watching these septuagenarian or octogenarian performers still working and travelling. Whether they need to work or not, they obviously thrive upon the audience adoration. The love from the audience last night didn't quite feel like it was reciprocated however. Mind you, these sorts of concerts seem to drag out of the closet the scariest group of theatre goers ever seen. I couldn't blame Chita being wary of all those hideously bright cashmere scarves, sports jackets and overbearing fragrance that was fashionable twenty years ago. At the end of the show some cheap queen brushed by to the front to give Chita a single red rose. Given the amount of rose oil he or the flower was drenched in, it was hard to tell if either were real. But I guess most of this audience wasn't looking for something real or new anyway. They were here for an embalming of Broadway's past so it worked well for everybody.
Knowing her audience, Chita did give musical medley after musical medley of her back catalogue. But fortunately she also performed some great songs in full by Kander and Ebb and a thrilling rendition of Jaques Brel's Carousel that showed why she still is a great performer and someone who knows her craft. She is more the vampy gravelly kind of singer, but she could hold your attention for nearly ninety minutes. Sitting in the front row of the Shaw also made for an intimate experience, but thankfully she didn't do any of those lightening bolt high kicks she is famous for. That would have been a little too intimate...
Chita made the comment that she was glad to be at the Shaw theatre and was surprised at the audience reaction deriding the venue. There is something soulless about this theatre in Kings Cross attached to a bland hotel, despite the comfortable seats and the proximity of the stage to the audience. The venue lacks a critical mass of theatres and bars around it, but it is good to see there is a space in central London for concert performances. We did eventually find a pub nearby where if you bought two glasses of wine they would throw in the bottle. Still a bit of a false economy if you spend Sunday morning with a hangover I suppose though...